THE SHELL
The spa shell is one of the most important components to consider when you're thinking about purchasing a hot tub.
Most of the components like pumps or packs are relatively easy to repair or replace if needed. However, if the spa shell has manufacturing defects or cracks later on down the road, it will be difficult to find someone willing and able to repair it. If you do find someone who can and will repair it, the repair will be costly, and if the damage is too extensive to repair, you could end up having to replace the entire shell (also costly).

Most spa shells are made up of a minimum of two components that are melded together: the shell's top surface (what you see) and a substructure behind the shell (that you don't see). The shell's top surface is its color and texture and any special features that protect it from wear and tear. The substructure provides the shell's structural integrity and strength. There are several different spa shell materials that are used in the industry. A short description of each material follows.

Vinyl: Vinyl is typically used in inexpensive soft-sided hot tubs. Spa shells made out of vinyl are especially vulnerable to both chemical and wear and tear damage. Hot tubs manufactured with a vinyl spa shell are typically the lowest-priced hot tubs you can buy. However, it is important to remember that "you get what you pay for."

Acrylic backed by Fiberglass: Acrylic is the most widely-used spa shell material and it offers the widest range of color and texture selection. Generally, acrylic spa shells are have a fiberglass compound substructure. The fiberglass substructure is attached (much like gluing) to the acrylic using bonding resins.

The quality of this adhering process by the manufacturer depends on several things:

  • The Thickness of the Acrylic: Thicker is obviously better, but it can be difficult to determine how thick a particular spa shell is. In the manufacturing process a flat acrylic sheet is heated and vacuum-formed (sucked down into) onto a mold. If done improperly, the spa shell can have "thin" areas, especially in curvy areas and on the walls.
  • The Substructure: The highest quality substructure occurs if each layer of the fiberglass is hand-rolled. This prevents air bubbles, which can lead to delamination.

Acrylic backed by ABS plastic: On the surface, this type of spa shell looks looks very similar to the acrylic that is backed by fiberglass. However, instead of adding a stiffening agent such as fiberglass, the this type of spa shell has the acrylic backed by (co-extruded with) a sheet of ABS plastic. ABS plastic is impact-resistant and when co-extruded properly, rarely separates from the acrylic surface. The downside of this type of spa shell is that it is weaker than a fiberglass- backed acrylic spa shell so the space between the shell and cabinet needs to be filled with full foam for additional support.

Most hot tubs that are foamed this way will have cabinets that cannot be removed.
This can possibly complicate future repairs involving plumbing that is buried in the foam.
Also if the hot tub cracks, it can be virtually impossible to repair.

Another important selection consideration for you is the interior shape and style of the spa shell. Some spa shells have molded individual seating, and some have an "open bench" style. Either can be equally enjoyable depending on your personal preferences. An "open bench" style enables you to move around in the hot tub more easily, is less restrictive, and gives you the feeling of having more room. Individual molded seats create definitive space and enable the placement of jets so they surround you. Molded seating also holds you more firmly in place. Be sure that the footwell is large enough to comfortably accommodate everyone's feet and legs.


EXTERIOR SKIRTING
The first thing most people generally notice when they see a hot tub is the spa skirt. A well-made, visually-pleasing spa skirt will enhance its aesthetic appeal and, if indoors, will enable it be easily incorporated with other furniture in the room it is installed in.

The two types of spa skirting generally available in the US are wood and synthetic (plastic). Both spa skirt types are usually included at no charge with the hot tub, and can typically be ordered in a redwood or gray finish, although some spa manufacturers carry other specialty finishes and colors that can be purchased for an additional charge.

Wood Spa Skirts:
All wood spa skirts require regular treatment and maintenance to ensure their longevity and beauty. You should be aware that this is a "hidden" expense when you are considering a wood spa skirt. Additionally, there can be many different types of wood - and, therefore, quality - used in making a wood spa skirt. Please be aware, for example, that most "redwood cabinets" are not actually manufactured using the redwood tree's wood, but instead are a less-expensive wood that is stained with the redwood color. Because wood cabinets tend to be more expensive than synthetic ones, you also need to be aware that a wood cabinet will most likely be thinner than a synthetic cabinet, which will affect the efficiency of the hot tub heating and maintaining its heat and may also cause the cabinet to degrade (warping, cracking, splitting, etc.) very rapidly (which means it will have to be replaced).

Synthetic Spa Skirts:
Synthetic spa skirts have become more favored as the standard spa skirt used with hot tub manufacturers. A well-made synthetic spa skirt can look like wood and requires very little maintenance. One drawback is that some synthetic spa skirts can be prone to fading or yellowing from sunlight over time.

Spa Skirt Construction
While the type of material used in a spa skirt is important, so is the way the spa skirt is constructed.

Removable Walls:
Removable panels allow for removal from the hot tub in case repairs are needed. Just imagine trying to repair a car without having the ability to open the hood. The repairing process becomes nearly impossible, extremely time consuming, and expensive. With this design, your spa can be easily checked and serviced when needed.

Interior Frame Construction:
Having removable wall panels is only part of the solution to your spa's "serviceability". Another key is having solid 2 x 4 construction. This provides enough strength to hold 200-300 gallons of water (between 1,600 and 2,400 lbs.) when the wall panels are removed.

2 x 4 construction provides plenty of strength to support a spa full of water, even when the panel walls are removed.

ABS or Synthetic Plastic Base:
This type of base will far outlast even the best pressure treated wood base. Besides being impervious to rot and decay, an ABS base can also do a better job at keeping insect, rodents, snakes, and other undesirables from crawling into and making a home inside the hot tub.


INSULATION
All spa and hot tub manufacturers claim they have the "best" system for insulation to keep your energy costs down.
Well, some do and some don't, and we did our research to see which spas actually use the most kilowatt hours.


QUALITY OF MATERIALS
The quality of materials that a spa or hot tub is manufactured with has a lot to do with its longevity and its performance. These ratings are based on what brand of components each company uses and where they are manufactured, as well as the reliability of each of the components.


JETS & PERFORMANCE
We rate each hot tub manufacturer's spa jets for quality, options (are they removable, closable, etc.?), and how much power they have.


OPTIONS
Most hot tub manufacturers have optional upgrades that can be added to their spas.
We evaluate the kind and quality of these options, such as sound systems, spa lighting, ozone, TV's, etc.


QUALITY CONTROL
Based on customer feedback and our own testing, our ratings indicate the level of quality control done by each manufacturer
to ensure that your spa is leak-proof and not faulty after being hooked up.


CUSTOMER SERVICE
We took this information directly from each spa manufacturer's Better Business Bureau's report.
Some companies have excellent customer service, some have average customer service, and some have terrible customer service.


PRICES
We evaluate each spa manufacturer's pricing in an "apples-to-apples" comparison to other manufacturers
so that you can see which hot tub companies give you the best value for your money.


WARRANTY
Each spa company's warranty is rated based on how it compares to industry standards.


OVERALL SCORE
All of the components listed above are given a score of 1 to 10, from these components we average an Overall Score for each manufacturer.

 
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